Atheism

Atheism is Meaningless, Purposeless, and Unlivable

cover.jpgMany atheists concede that if God does not exist then the universe is both purposeless and meaningless. The late William Provine penned that “The universe cares nothing for us and we have no ultimate meaning in life” (1). And as Jon Casmir would agree, “There is no meaning of life. The whole thing is a gyp, a never-ending corridor to nowhere” (2).

Many atheists have therefore attempted to construct a subjective purpose and meaning to life. Michael Shermer claimed that “we can develop ways to make us feel better; feeling like we have a purpose” (3). On this view, there is no purpose to life beyond what one can give him/herself.

Opponents of atheism have not been shy to point this out. They believe that this leaves the atheist with fairly significant problems, which can range to atheism being established upon irrational foundations to atheists simply being unable to live out their beliefs consistently. Philosopher and Christian theologian William Lane Craig is one voice to do so and in one lively debate criticizes the idea that atheists can just make subjective meaning for themselves when, at bottom, atheism doesn’t allow for any meaning and purpose whatsoever. Craig remarks,

“This just is to say that we can pretend that the universe exists for some purpose and this is just make-belief. This is the subjective illusion of purpose. But there is on this view no objective purpose for the universe. And we, of course, would never deny that you could develop subjective purposes for your life. The point is on atheism they are all illusory. And that is why I agree with Richard Dawkins when he said, “at bottom this is an emotional question rather than a rational one.” I wish I had the courage to say that. I am convinced that people adopt atheism primarily for emotional rather than rational purposes” (4).

The atheist, argues Craig, shows a great practical inconsistency here which leads him to conclude that atheism is irrational,

“But you cannot live as if your life is purposeless and meaningless. And therefore you adopt subjective illusions of purpose to make your life livable. And that is why I not only think atheism is irrational but it is profoundly unlivable. You cannot live consistently and purposefully within the context of an atheistic worldview” (5).

Indeed this is a difficulty prominent historic atheists have realized. Friedrich Nietzsche, famous for declaring the death of God, lamented that such a realization of God’s demise not only did away with any sense of morality but also invited despair or meaninglessness because those beliefs pertaining to religion that mattered greatly to human beings and that gave their lives meaning could no longer be believed. As such, for atheists like Nietzsche, nihilism, the total abandonment of all meaning, moral value, and purpose to life, was the only rational atheistic perspective. But as critics like Craig have pointed out, atheists also possess an (inconsistent) internal desire to want to experience a purposeful and meaningful existence. As such, rather than living consistently with the depths of nihilism, the same atheist will construct meaning and delude himself into believing that his activities and beliefs are meaningful.

The atheist could retort to Craig, and perhaps rightly so, that the likes of happiness, meaning, and purpose are not requisites to the truth. After all, perhaps human beings are just that unfortunate beast to finally discover that life is indeed meaningless and that this is just the way the universe is. The difference between the human and a cow is little more than the fact that the former has come to know this truth whereas the latter just exists in total obliviousness.

Religionists like Craig do not seem to share this dilemma. Religions avoid this because they establish a connection between human beings and a deity in a sort of human-God(s) relationship of ultimate significance. These religions typically ascribe meaning and purpose to life. Whereas on atheism life obliterates at death, religions provide hope in an afterlife in which human daily affairs and decisions really matter beyond this universe itself. It is likely this latter fact that religions are so primary to human beings. In many cases, and perhaps for most religionists, it is not whether or not a religion’s core precepts can be shown to be true, but whether or not those religions fulfill that internal yearning for meaning and purpose which can only be found in religious modes of thought.

References

1. Provine, W. 1998. Scientists, Face it! Science and Religion are Incompatible. Available.

2. Jon Casimir quoted by John Marsden in This I Believe (1995). p. 48.

3. William Lane Craig at his Best (3min: 27sec). Available.

4. William Lane Craig at his Best (3min: 30sec – 4min: 15sec). Available

5. William Lane Craig at his Best (4min: 20sec – 4min: 40sec)Available

12 replies »

  1. Craig’s arguments are nonsense. He writes as if atheists are merely pretending to have purpose. The Christian believes that his purpose is given to him. The atheists believes we choose our own purpose. We have one life, and we can choose what to do with it (i.e. what purpose to make of it). It’s not that complicated.

    • So you would agree that in order to “choose” your own purpose you must have “free will” in order to do so? I thought all atheists believed otherwise.

    • So atheists can choose to be evil or good, when with Christians the moral dilemma is overcome and dealt with by the power of the Spirit of Truth, as in Jesus, therefore the choice in Christ has already been made. Christians must concentrate on what he has already done Amen. I would hate to be left to atheist moral so called humanities, which are nonsense and full of intellectual pride.

  2. Theists believe that ‘purpose’ for atheists is subjective (and therefore illusory), whereas atheists believe that ‘purpose’ for atheists _and_ theists is subjective, and not (necessarily) illusory for either.

    Theists might be right; atheists might be right. If atheists are right, then – according to theism, or at least to this blog – theism is unlivable.

    Or maybe this assertion is just a giant non sequitur?

  3. Of course atheists would say that William Craig’s arguments are nonsense, because in order to justify their worldview they have no other choice!

  4. From the perspective of science, the purpose of life has been presented long ago. All species exhibiting entropic adaptation do so with a primary instinct to expand potential. Without this, no living organism would be here today.

    To that, Craig is as lost as they come in knowing the basics of biological science.

    • “a primary instinct to expand potential” – how does that arise in a purely material organism composed entirely of mindless, unguided chemical molecules?

      • Entropic adaptation.

        The function of adapting to even the slightest change in a given environment (immediate or gradual) results in modified behaviour — as a response to said change. However, the entropic style of adaptation allows for rudimentary memory of past adaptations, allowing future tasks in adaptation to be performed with greater efficiency. Much research in many areas of biology have reveal this mechanism.

        Evidently, not all organisms require a brain to qualify as a living organism.

        • So what, exactly, is this “rudimentary memory of past adaptions” composed of, and where does it reside? Inside a purely physical, material brain? And where does the “primary instinct to expand” originate – same place, I suppose? How can immaterial concepts such as efficiency, instinct or purpose possibly arise from purely physical matter?

  5. Rudimentary memory is a biological function that preserves some of the traits previously used. It’s not a literal cognitive memory (unrelated in this case), but an encoded capability from past environments — dormant in the current environment as not requiring the use of said capabilities. As mentioned previously, these traits do not require a “brain”.

    Here is the entropic adaption of genetic mutations as researched by Richard Lenski:
    http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2014/02/evolution-in-real-time/

    Abstract from the article:
    “Random genetic mutation pushes organisms to diversify, while natural selection is a homogenizing force, favoring characteristics that enhance survival under specific conditions.”

    This second article quotes Lenski on the increased rate of mutation as proportionate to the changed environment (hence entropic modelling):
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091018141716.htm

    In the scientific field, these adaptations are accelerated by developing genetic “tools” used in overcoming biological constraints. Thus, adaptation becomes easier as shown in Lenski’s work.

    These methods of research in small organisms are common in the field. Much can be learned in the ways adaptation takes place when changing the environment of a species. Much is done this way:
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-05/uocp-hec052907.php

    Interestingly, Lenski’s work revealed whole new species in the evolution of e-coli. Allow these to continue even further, and the separation will take on more distinction as changes to the environment are induced.

    This is where scientists begin to drop all adherence to religious ideology in asking “Did god create the new species that mutated before me?” Evidently not. Through artificial influence in the environment of small organisms, the mechanism of adaptation will trigger mutation (in accelerated fashion if needed) to better suit sustained function in the new environment.

    The addition of more genetic complexity from past adaptation of many environments builds two things: a more capable genetic intelligence, and a more developed genetic toolset that facilitates easier adaptation of the next environment.

    This entropic style of adaptation gathers more capability with each challenge it overcomes. This is the genetic trait we use in our everyday lives.

    When we go to university to learn about the field we endeavour to work in, we gather knowledge and methods for the respective field. Once graduated, are we the same as when we started? No, we’re more capable. Why do we like to figure things out? To understand more. Why do we explore, wonder, experiment, or do anything creative? To gather more capability in understanding, and thus improve our resilience as a survival trait.

    If we did none of these things, we wouldn’t have the technologies we have today. We also wouldn’t have the abilities our civilization has today. Go back further and we wouldn’t have instinct to preserve our sociality. Further yet, we wouldn’t have surpassed the changed state of any environment in our past — we simply wouldn’t exist.

    So yes, it’s in our genetic makeup to expand potential (diversify) — and Craig, ignorant of this, is a professional debater who cares not of truth based on evidence, only wanting an audience to score subjective points as not contingent to revealing truth at all. To that, we in the scientific community really don’t care what Craig has to say, we only care what’s true.

    If need more information on entropic adaptation, feel free to read the many articles I’ve written in this area.

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